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The State of Talk Radio in New England

Monday, December 16, 2013


New England is no stranger to talk radio controversies. What does the future hold now?

With recent attention and scrutiny paid to the fate of beleaguered radio talk show host John DePetro, the scenario unfolding raises a question as to not only the fate of the local radio host, but as to the current state of talk radio in New England.

"The rule of thumb in these cases is as follows: Usually when a talk show host gets in trouble, the degree of support they get from their company is in ratio to the value they have for the company," said Michael Harrison, editor and publisher of Talkers Magazine, the self-proclaimed "bible of talk radio and new talk media," who offered his thoughts on the the ultimate outcome of the DePetro trial-by-fire.

DePetro is facing a growing number of elected officials, candidates, and even the RI GOP, who have stepped forth to say they would boycott DePetro and WPRO over his disparaging comments made on-air about female union activists, for which he has since apologized -- but it has not placated those opposed to his language.

The controversy is hardy the first for New England -- and national -- talk radio, which has seen hosts come under scrutiny for comments made on air, with a wide-range of results -- and DePetro's future will prove to be another chapter in an industry that has seen major changes in recent years.

See Infamous Talk Radio Controversies BELOW

An American Tourist in North Korea?  

"First of all, how can liberal politicians "boycott" a show that, according to media reports, they haven't been on for years? Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick has never had the courage to appear on the air with me, despite being in the same studio once a month for about six years," asked Massachusetts conservative talk show host Michael Graham. "Was he "boycotting" me?"

Graham continued. "Having said that, I'm offended by DePetro calling women union activists "hags" and "whores." I'm offended because, in addition to being rude and insulting, it's incredibly stupid. Doing conservative talk radio in New England is like being an American tourist in North Korea. You're surrounded by people who have no interest in free speech, no desire for diverse opinions and who will scrutinize every statement you make for a chance to shut you down."

Talkers' Harrison addressed what he saw unique to the current situation facing DePetro. "The difference between the DePetro case and earlier high-profile ones involving national hosts is DePetro is actually being attacked by elected officials (as opposed to "just" political action groups). Any elected official who aggressively tries to shut down a media commentator as opposed to simply reacting by expressing disagreement is, in my opinion, more dangerous than the host, regardless of how nasty or disgusting the host might be. The reason - the First Amendment is the most important principle we have in America that makes us a free country."

Harrison continued, "There can be no freedom without free speech - meaning speech uncensored by government repression, control, influence or edict. Elected officials should not use their power or influence to put an opposing or disagreeable voice out of business. That is a terrible thing and should be repudiated by anyone who understands the Constitution and the importance of the First Amendment. I do not know what the outcome will be."

The For Our Daughters campaign, which was formed following DePetro's latest remarks, bills itself as a "grassroots advocacy organization committed to promoting gender equity and combating misogyny in public speech and debate."

"John DePetro's reputation as an abrasive misogynist is widely known, but his latest attack on women can't go unanswered. His recent labeling of women protesters outside at a political event as "whores" is offensive, unacceptable and un-American," writes the group on its homepage.

Last week, in addition to dozens of elected officials and candidates, RI GOP Chair Mark Smiley stated, “The RIGOP recognizes that free speech is important for all our citizens however that is not a green light under all circumstances for Cumulus Media Inc. Although we don’t always agree politically and ideologically with Democrats in Rhode Island we fully agree on this matter. The John Depetro Show is demeaning to women and minorities and this kind of behavior can’t be tolerated. The Rhode Island Republican Party will be boycotting WPRO indefinitely until the John Depetro Show is terminated." 

Future of Talk Radio?

Harrison acknowledged that political pressures -- and a changing media landscape and demographics -- are changing the talk radio environment.

"The recent decline in the number of talk stations and local talk hosts in New England - particularly Boston which was once considered to be one of the nation's leading talk radio markets - is disturbing. Talk radio faces a number of challenges - the most daunting being what we are discussing, political pressure on advertisers to deny support to controversial political talk. The others are basically the same problems facing all of radio, not to mention a range of 20th century based advertising media... and that is, competition from exotic new digital-era media and huge generational divides that make it difficult to attract younger audiences," said Harrison.

"Basically stations have far less personnel running larger groups or "clusters" of stations. In the old days you'd have a program director and general manager and chief engineer responsible for one or two stations per market. Now they are responsible for far more," said Harrison, noting however that "Providence stations such as WPRO have more local marquee hosts than most in similar sized markets."

Bill George, Director of Programming at WHJJ, thought that despite recent changes, the state of talk radio remained strong. "The Nielsen company released a report last week which showed that News/Talk is the highest rated format in the country. Here in Rhode Island, we continue to see enthusiastic interest in the format," said George. "With statewide elections coming next year, we expect that interest to grow, as it does in any election year. At News Radio 920 we are extremely bullish on the prospect for a strong 2014, especially now that we have RI Radio Hall of Famer Ron St. Pierre hosting our morning show. The race for Governor is sure to bring tremendous interest to the News/Talk format."

George continued, "Talk radio is a dynamic medium and is often controversial by nature. It is not unusual for specific groups to use their influence upon broadcasters and advertisers when they feel they need to take a stand against a particular host. We have seen this on a national scale, as well as in individual markets around the country. This type of controversy isn't unique to Rhode Island. Each situation and market is different, so there doesn't appear to be an appropriate blanket approach."

A change.org petition has been formed by a group, RI Citizens for Free Speech, stating DePetro is "under attack by a paid organized union smear campaign designed to silence his vocal criticism." It writes, "Do not allow politicians and unions to suppress free speech guaranteed by the First Amendment! We will not tolerate the censorship of the callers or the host of The John DePetro Show."

Related Slideshow:
Infamous Talk Radio Controversies

Prev Next

Arbitron Ratings Scandal

In 2008, radio host John DePetro found himself in the midst of a ratings controversy.  The Boston Herald reported,

The briefly stellar ratings of controversy-dogged-talkmeister John DePetro’s Providence radio show tanked yesterday after a whiff of scandal forced Arbitron to reissue its spring survey of listener-dial habits.

In the 6 to 10 a.m. weekday slot occupied by the self-proclaimed “Independent Man” on WPRO-AM (630), “the reissue ranked WPRO at number nine” among valued 25- to 54-year-old listeners, “down from the number four rank in the original release,” program manager Paul Giammarco and station market manager Barbara Haynes announced in a joint statement.

Prev Next

Candidate Name-Calling

DePetro was fired from Boston radio station WRKO in 2006 for calling then-gubernatorial Rainbow Party candidate Grace Ross a "fat lesbian." 

Prev Next

Office Scuffle

The Providence Journal's Mike Stanton reported on an altercation in 2009 between DePetro and radio host Ron St. Pierre.

DePetro said he was hit -- and scratched -- in the eye with a balled up paper with a staple thrown at him by St. Pierre.  

Prev Next

Buddy's Return - to Radio


After five years in prison for racketeering conspiracy from 2002 to 2007, former Mayor of Providence Buddy Cianci returned to the public eye with a radio show on WPRO.  

While controversial, Cianci's continued popularity has people wondering if Buddy might just make another run for Mayor in 2014.  

Prev Next

Chafee's Talk Radio Ban

Upon taking office in 2011, Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee announced that he would not appear on talk radio shows and barred state employees in agencies and departments that report to him from doing the same during work hours.  

Governor Chafee is among the elected officials who have signed the "For Our Daughters" pledge.  

Prev Next

Dennis and Callahan

WEEI sports radio hosts John Dennis and Gerry Callahan were suspended in 2003 when they referred to an escaped gorilla as a "Metco gorilla" waiting for a bus to Lexington -- with Metco being bus program that buses inner-city students to suburban schools.

Boston's WCVB reported that advertisers Dunkin' Donuts and Blue Cross pulled back station support in light of the incident.  

Prev Next

Severin Suspended

WTKK's Jay Severin was fired for making comments about sleeping with female employees over the years.  

Radio Ink reported on Greater Media's reaction to the incident.  

"Greater Media today ended its relationship with Jay Severin. Our company has always encouraged a free and open dialogue on a variety of issues and topics, and we will continue to be guided by that principle. But we also demand that our on-air talent maintain an appropriate level of civility, and adhere to a standard that respects our listeners and the public at large.

Prev Next

Imus' Racial Remarks

in 2007, nationally syndicated talk show host Don Imus called Rutgers women's basketball players "nappy-headed hos."  Imus was suspended -- then fired -- by CBS Radio.  

Five years later, Imus was back on the national radio circuit, as reported by New Jersey.com

Prev Next

Rush Limbaugh

Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh is no stranger to controversy; his latest remarks prompted the Democratic National Committee to call on Republican leaders to boycott the Daily Caller, which defended Limbaugh's remarks in an article entitled, "Liberals want to stop men from checking out women." 


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Killary Klinton

It's very easy to see the direction of local talk radio.

Stream Beck, Rush, Hannity and Levin on the PC.

Bill George jumped the shark when he fired Helen Glover. Haven't listened to the morning show since. Good job Billy.

WPRO was never a choice since they hire sexual harassers and criminals. Oh well, that's their choice.

Good luck AM radio - your days are numbered. Conservatives have many more choices to listen the their favorite talk show people.


Remember in 2008 when B. H. Obama promised you could keep your healthcare plan, PERIOD.

Rob K

Let's call a spade a spade, the primary market for talk radio is older, conservative, white men. The sideshow carnival barkers are pushing the limits to grab an ever shrinking share of the total market. Thus, Depetro following the Glenn Beck model of over the top lunacy to get ratings.

Flip around the dial to any of the offerings and you hear a different voice pitching the same talking points from 'Obama isn't American', 'ACA Kills Babies and Kittens' and 'Take Our Country Back' (whatever racist tripe that is code for) to the most reasoned hosts who still seem to think -despite popular vote twice to the contrary- that Republicans are entitled to hold the presidency and no other ideology shall be permitted.

It's just a last gasp for money before complete irrelevancy, which cannot come soon enough.

Harriet Lloyd

In respect to this very important statement:

"Any elected official who aggressively tries to shut down a media commentator as opposed to simply reacting by expressing disagreement is, in my opinion, more dangerous than the host, regardless of how nasty or disgusting the host might be. The reason - the First Amendment is the most important principle we have in America that makes us a free country."

The candidates who have piled on here are less outraged by the host's words than terrified of the unions' opposition in 2014. Rather than de-escalating this ridiculous situation and focusing on the very real and devastating problems in RI, they become a gaggle of frightened geese when the union bullies are addled. I won't vote for people who cannot stand up to this type of pressure - imagine how they'll turn tail and skedaddle when the issues are really critical and the heat is really turned up! Calling a candidate with a spine........anyone? anyone?

Lorraine Botts

Don't let the door hit you on your backside on your way out.

Killary Klinton

Hey Rob K - how's that Air America doing? About as good as Obamacare?


A proud black conservative that doesn't let the racist left-wingers' propaganda and lies dictate my opinion.

joi fons

"Any elected official who aggressively tries to shut down a media commentator as opposed to simply reacting by expressing disagreement is, in my opinion, more dangerous than the host"

Are you for real, Ms Loyd??????
You support hate meal and having talk show hosts demean women? You say it's OK for public radio to carry DePetro's comments when he referred to a number of women demonstrating outside a political event as “whores” (as well as other derogatory terms, including “cockroaches” and “hags”) on the air???
This supporting of hate speech does not become you, Ms Lloyd! In fact it is disgusting that in this season of Christmas particularly, we are not more sensitive of others and that, yes, we do have the first amendment freedom of speech right, but not to the point where a talk show host uses such hate statements for ratings...Boston threw him out. Did you ever ask yourself why?

joi fons

Would Depetro get away with it if he insulted gays in RI (he did not in Boston- got fired) or African-Americans or other minority groups with his hate speech? Why is he now being allowed to get away with insulting women under the guise of his First Amendment Right? Is it selective discrimination, now these days?

Jimmy LaRouche

Wasn't DePetro defending a woman--in this case our State Treasurer? And, BTW, if you look up "whore" in the dictionary, one of the definitions is a "venal or unscrupulous person." I think many would agree that union leaders fall into that category--this union-promoted protest certainly falls into the "unscrupulous" category.

I applaud Alex and Ani for refusing to bow to obvious political pressure. This state is imploding due to one party rule--now the party in power wants to silence all opposition. What's next?

Phil Paulson

Everyone is getting so worked up about this issue. Nobody is forcing Depetro off the air, they are just saying that they won't support the station until he's gone. That's free speech as well. If we don;t agree with someone on the air, we can avoid them. If that causes ratings to drop to the point where someone is replaced, that's just too bad for them and the way it is. Free speech works both ways.

John Onamas

Michael Graham's "defense" of free speech, coming from another right wing talk show host, is incredibly self-serving. It's possible to have passionate political discourse without resorting to cheap, generalized insults like "whore." Also, exercise to your right of free speech does not mean you are free from consequences. People with the same right to free speech are entitled to loudly voice their opposition. Free speech doesn't mean that someone gets to say anything they want, without having to worry about any response.

Harriet Lloyd

To Joi...I hope you never turn on a tv or logon to internet - your language sensitivity is so acute, you may not survive the experience! This feigned outrage is pretty amusing! And as for hate speech and hate mail, the unions lead the pack...I should know! Merry Christmas, all!

Art West

Those calling for the removal of John DePetro because of something he said are exploiting a political opportunity -- fine -- but the dishonest "personal outrage" is a little much.

The larger point of elected officials and political candidates using their position to attempt to silence someone whose thinking and speech they don't like truly is chilling. Once that train starts rolling, you really are on your way to Pyongyang.

Jonathan Flynn

"A proud black conservative that doesn't let the racist left-wingers' propaganda and lies dictate my opinion." But I guess not a proud enough black conservative to use your own name. That is shameful.

Joyce Bryant

My question is this, Did the FOR YOUR DAUGHTERS campaign protest Martin Bashir at MSNBC news when he said someone should defecate in Sarah Palin's mouth. Or is disrespecting conservative women all right with them? I don't remember any politicians verbally protesting MSNBC either.

Art West

Joyce: Bingo.

michael riley

Joyce makes a good point as does Harriet. This is a circus. John knows that i'm not a fan of his and I found his words were insulting and hard to forgive, but lets place this incident in the correct light. Rhode Island Politics. Women and teachers carry a big stick which they do not wield impartially or fairly. It is what it is.


As far as the WPRO fiasco goes.. you know the end is near when politicians join the ranks of union cat calls to silence opposition. This a very dangerous slippery slope that has enormous ramifications..everyone should have kept there nose out of this, it has nothing to to with anything, this a private sector business matter and it should be left to the station management to deal with without pressure from unions or public officials.

Gary Arnold

Sounds like the union has found a new cause to flap their gums on.
All of the politicians don't like talk radio because it exposes them for what they are, not much.
Don't forget this all started because the union was protesting at a fund raiser, anyone ever listen to the rotten language that comes out of those mouths, not for the faint of heart. I've seen some of these nice union folks saying some pretty disgusting things about someones wife or mother. Funny when the shoe is on the other foot.
We live in a state of unionized Democrats, so you tell me why would they (the union folks) be happy when anyone criticizes them.
This state is last in every major economic bench mark and you can thank your local unionized Democrat.


BTW..John ..have you ever read the disgusting,vile,violent postings of liberals lately?? They are the worst of the worst!..they get a pass and and it's like pulling teeth to get anyone to call them out on it! Listen to the left's hate speech!

Killary Klinton

Combining the unions and vile anti-woman comments - Ever hear of Ed Shultz?

His war against women is well documented and now his union bribery is finally coming to light. He should be joining Baldwin and Bashir soon.

Liberals are so predictable. It's free speech as long as it's THEIR free speech.


Living rent free in Jonathan's progressive mind.

Jonathan Flynn

You're not living in my mind Ms. Klinton. You only temporarily occupy the infinitesimally small part of my brain that comes to laugh at the ridiculous comments of you and your like minded, knuckle dragging brethren.

Art West

I hope ALL those who comment here will keep posting. Everyone I meet has something to teach me.

Sammy Arizona

None of WPRO's or WHJJ's pseudo conservatives would make it on Arizona talk radio, right-wingers here demand a much higher level of CRAZY, and a lot more venomous hate speech. Like righties everywhere they do have a soft spot for convicted felons, so they might tolerate Buddy Cianci, since he has been promoted to Sean Hannity's conservative "Great American Panel"

Righties think the twice convicted felon Cianci is a "Great American" ? ?..LOL

Jonathan Flynn

Martin Bashir apologized and then RESIGNED at MSNBC. DePetro doesn't have enough grace and dignity to do the same. He will be fired, just like the last time.

Howard Miller

i wonder what Comley or Strickhouser would think about this

David Allen

I agree with Harriet. The current pool of gubernatorial candidates would say or do absolutely anything to get themselves elected - even trample on the First Amendment. It is a pathetic lot - all of them. Carrying on to curry union votes. Gross, actually.

Joyce Bryant

Actually John DePetro did have the grace to apologize, as reported here:
Friday, December 06, 2013

GoLocalProv Business Team

John DePetro, radio talk show host at WPRO AM, apologized on air this morning for comments he had made on air in September. DePetro has come underfire from leading union leaders via a group asking advertisers to boycott advertisers and Cumulus radio.

Jonathan Flynn

He didn't have the dignity to RESIGN, Ms. Bryant. You can cover for him all you like, but he must step down or the calls for his resignation will grow louder and deeper. It's a market based solution. When the advertisers join the call for his dismissal, he will be let go.

Jonathan Flynn

And, the sooner, the better.

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